Civil Rights

Sinking Arizona

By Jim Smith

Oh Arizona, where the elderly go to die
a Death’s Head has gripped your state.
Immigrants raise their eyes and ask why
they must suffer such a criminal’s fate.

Sunstroke has come early to Arizona this year, or so it would seem. The Anglo majority in the Arizona government has tyrannized the Latino minority in ways that would not be expected in an American state.

Not since the “good” German Christians decided in the 1930s to declare German Jews to be unwanted aliens without rights has a group of people, defined by their ethnicity, been subject to automatic police harassment and ostracism.

How did the federal government respond to this civil rights atrocity? By sending in the troops – 12,000 national guard to be exact. This should be no surprise since the feds responded to the earthquake in Haiti by sending in the troops. At least, Latinos will have some protection like Blacks did in the South. Wrong. The troops are there to seal up the border, not protect anyone’s rights.

Meanwhile, sources tell the Beachhead that commercial areas of Phoenix are like a ghost town since Latinos – both documented and undocumented – are afraid they will be seized if they leave home.

The word Arizona became a source of derision around the world with the passage of SB1070 and its signing into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23. The bill is euphemistically titled, “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” Now South Carolina, the birthplace of the Confederacy, has a copy cat bill pending in its legislature.

Cutting through its 16 pages of legal BS, the Arizona law permits police to determine who looks like an “alien” and to arrest them. It penalizes anyone who attempts to hire them for day labor, but goes easy on big employers who “unknowingly” employ aliens. It makes it a crime for a church or an individual to give sanctuary to immigrants. It is a crime to befriend an immigrant by giving he/she a ride or other aid and comfort. Law 1070 also allows any person to sue a police officer, city, county or state agency for not being zealous enough in enforcing its draconian provision.

But wait. We’re not done yet. How can you top SB1070? With HB2281, the so-called Ethnic Studies ban which Gov. Brewer signed May 11. Education will now be controlled by the state legislature. No classes will be allowed that are designed for one particularly ethnic group or that advocate ethnic solidarity (James Brown’s song, I’m Black and I’m Proud, will no doubt be prohibited in a music class).

It also becomes illegal to “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” Obviously, teaching about the Holocaust would be illegal since it might create resentment toward Germans.

But it should be clear that the real target is Latinos. Any Latino reading Howard Zinn’s “Peoples History,” or numerous books by Latinos about the history of unfair treatment of immigrants, workers and U.S. citizens of Latino heritage would certainly cause resentment against those who perpetrated and continue to perpetrate discriminatory acts in Arizona.

Most Venetians know Arizona, if at all, as a long yawn out the car window, or a moon-like landscape from an airplane window, on their way east. Arizona (arid zone) is a 310-mile-wide desert that must be gotten through to get anywhere interesting. There are two large oases in this desert – Phoenix and Tucson – and several smaller ones. Arizona is also home to one of the world’s biggest holes in the ground, the Grand Canyon.

There would be few people living in Arizona today if not for a modern technological invention – air conditioning. If the power ever goes out, or the water runs dry, the anglo “civilization” of Arizona will go the way of the Native American and Mexican cultures that they trampled on, and are still trampling on. Earlier civilizations in the Arizona area like the Pueblo culture, the Hohokam and the Sinagua peoples were more advanced that the current residents in that they lived in harmony with nature and were not particularly warlike.

The territory of Arizona was originally proclaimed by that great President, Jefferson Davis. Oops. Yes, in 1861 the good people of Arizona seceded from New Mexico so they could enjoy being slave owners along with the rest of the Confederacy. The leaders who had performed this coup had come to power after the United States declared war on Mexico in 1846 and seized two-thirds of its territory, including what is now Arizona. Taking land by aggressive war is hardly a legal basis to impose draconian measures against those Mexicans who would be able to travel freely throughout their land had it not been violently seized from them.

Nineteenth Century immigrants from the United States spread a frontier mentality into Arizona. Towns like Tombstone were admired for their lawlessness. In some ways, Arizona was America’s last frontier. It did not become a state until 1912 and America’s “Indian Wars” only ended in 1918 with a battle against the Yaquis near Nogales, Arizona. Part of the frontier culture in Arizona and elsewhere was a deep seated racism against Native Americans and Mexicans. This long tradition of racism plus “white flight” from parts of Southern California are the ideological foundations of the extreme racial laws now emanating from the state government.

In May 1980, I attended an immigration conference held at El Mirage, near Phoenix. After it was over I visited with immigrant farmworkers in the area. They lived in the fields where they harvested crops. Their living conditions were worse than those of slaves in the antebellum South. Some lived in the open, under trees. Others had built lean-tos out of packing crates and covered them with plastic tarpaulins.

At another ranch a few miles away, the Arizona Farm Workers Union had just won a contract which provided for spartan, but clean, rooms for farm workers. It contained an innovative provision that called for a fund to be used to create jobs in those Mexican states where the farm workers resided. Unfortunately, most growers couldn’t care less about solving immigration problems, let alone improving conditions in the fields, and the union withered and died.

Immigration to Arizona and other U.S. states was spurred by the North America Free Trade Agreement beginning in 1994. It allowed mass produced U.S. goods to undercut Mexican products, thereby causing massive job losses and a constant stream of job seekers to “El Norte.” Mexican farms cannot even grow and sell corn, a staple of their diets, competitively. U.S. corn is now dumped, thanks to NAFTA, at 30 percent below its cost of production. The difference is made up by government subsides to U.S. corn farmers. NAFTA and other freely trade agreements allow capital and products to free cross national boundaries, while workers are either left holding the bag or forced to violate immigration laws in search of a livelihood for themselves and their families. In Arizona, bad politics has placed U.S. workers against Mexican workers instead of uniting them to fight for fair trade agreements and job creation projects in Mexico.

Events may move swiftly in Arizona. After this article is published on June 1, we may hear of other measures by that state to finally solve the “Immigrant Question.” Perhaps they will reactivate the numerous concentration camps in Arizona that were used during World War II to incarcerate Japanese-Americans, who were mostly U.S. citizens, and for housing German and Italian prisoners of war. Or they may repeal the Martin Luther King holiday, that they so begrudgingly accepted after a boycott of the state proved successful. Worst of all, state sponsored persecution of an easily recognizable group can embolden otherwise cowardly racists to engage in violent vigilante acts against immigrants.

How should we respond to Arizona’s assault on human rights? The Los Angeles City Council has voted to boycott Arizona. The Venice Neighborhood Council, other Venice organizations and individuals should likewise commit to boycott travel and goods from Arizona. And let’s urge President Obama to get off his executive seat and tell Arizona that immigration is a federal responsibility and that they have no business getting involved.

In addition, we should see what has happened as an object lesson of where hatred or disrespect for others, particularly the vulnerable, can lead. Let’s ask the L.A. City Council to reign in their harassment and roundup of our own vulnerable group, homeless people.

Meanwhile, Arizona racists – in uniform and out – are chomping at the bit to become latter-day storm troopers when SB1070 goes into effect on July 28. But what will suburban Arizonians do, when Maria the Maid, Rosa the Nanny, and Pedro the Gardener no long come to work, and Manuel the Laborer no longer builds houses and José no longer harvests their vegetables and fruits?

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